My first exposure to Allan Aguirre’s music came when one of the guys in my high school youth group let me borrow a battered cassette of Scaterd Few’s Sin Disease. It was a landmark album in my formative years, a riotous and compelling album full of urban and spiritual unrest and angst. Although often labelled “punk,” it was much more than that, taking punk and blending it with goth, thrash, glam-rock, metal, and reggae into a completely unique and vital pastiche, with Aguirre’s dramatic vocals and incisive lyrics completing the picture.
In my sophomore year of college, my roommate at the time (also a big Aguirre fan) let me hear some of Aguirre’s then-new project, Spy Glass Blue, on a 7″ he had picked up. With Spy Glass Blue, Aguirre started moving towards a darker, more (for lack of a better term) “gothic” sound, giving greater sway to his glam influences (i.e. David Bowie). However, after that and Scaterd Few’s Jawboneofanass, Aguirre’s music slipped off the radar for me. I’d manage to catch bits and pieces of Spy Glass Blue’s Cornerstone performances, but that was really about it.
So it was with a fair amount of interest that I started listening to The Blue EP. I was curious as to how Aguirre’s music had changed/matured over the ensuing years. And I have to conclude that the jury’s still out on that one. At their best, such as tracks like “One and Only” and “Stymie,” Aguirre and band pick up on the New York vibe (think Interpol or Calla, rather than The Strokes).
“Stymie” is probably the EP’s strongest track, featuring some unexpected, mercurial hooks with Aguirre’s melodramatic vocals swooping above and delivering lyrics that could only have come from his pen — “Swimming shark-infested waters/Kissing all the creature features/Sleeping with Gomorrah’s daughters/Eating with the fattened preachers.”
Elsewhere, the lyrics take on a bit more bluntness, with Aguirre wearing his spirituality on his sleeve. “Mercy” lifts a page from the Psalms (“In skin you’ve clothed me/With bones you’ve knit me/Fearfully wonderfully made”) with Aguirre adding some imagery of his own (“Orion maker/The bear caretaker… You’re mountain shaker and heaven stretcher”). And “Come Away” finds the band taking on a much more relaxed vibe, with Aguirre crooning “The flowers are blooming/They dance with the dew/And the voice of the dove has been heard/Come away with me” amidst dreamy guitars.
However, the EP is not without its weak points. The final track, “Vacant Places,” finds Aguirre repeatedly wailing “I will fill your vacant places” over a pogoing jam of slicing guitars and bouncing rhythms. However, for all its energy, the track seems superfluous — like a demo recorded as a warmup to the recording sessions proper, and included on the EP just to bring the total number of tracks up to an even six. Indeed, it’d be nice if the energy packed into this song could somehow have been evenly distributed amongst the EP’s other 5 tracks.
And as much as I enjoy Aguirre’s melodramatic vocals, the songs on this EP don’t do them justice by a mile. Indeed, they often seem held back in a way by the songs and unable to break free and be as intense as they could be. I’d be curious to hear his distinctive wail backed by even more obtuse, unusual sounds and structures (which are hinted at on “Come Away,” but only barely).
It’s been a solid five years or more since I had a heard a new Allan Aguirre recording, so it’s really impossible for me to comment on how his sound has (or hasn’t) matured or developed. I can only really compare it to Sin Disease, and that’s not fair to either the old or new Aguirre (for starters, we’re talking about a 13-year difference between recordings, not to mention two completely different bands and approaches).
There’s still certainly room for even more growth — both in the use of Aguirre’s vocals and in the overall intensity. Though I compared the EP’s finer moments to a band like Calla, there’s only a fraction here of the dark, nervous intensity one finds on Televise. Overall, the EP feels like a stopgap, a transitional work. Something to give fans a taste of what the band is truly capable of and to span the gap until a proper release comes out, a release that really displays the band’s talents… and I await just such a recording.